Bandits and Trail Racing

Written by Nancy Hobbs, Executive Director, American Trail Running Association.

Have you ever stood on the start line for a race, looked around you, and noticed the runner to your left was not wearing a bib number? Do you glare at the bib-less runner? Do you nudge the person to your right and say, “Hey, check this out, the runner next to me didn’t pay to run in this race. Doesn’t that tick you off?” Or, do you simply look the other way and not let it bother you?

Although these non-entrants, referred to as bandits or turkeys, may not anger other runners, you can bet that every race director’s temper raises a few degrees when the bib-less runner passes an aid station and grabs a cup of Gatorade, or worse, crosses the finish line and rushes to the refreshment table.

PRO TIP: What is good trail racing etiquette? Find out by reading our “Rules on the Run“.

A bandit is defined as a robber in Webster’s New World Dictionary. That is just what a bandit runner does. He or she is robbing the race, taking something that they didn’t pay for by enjoying refreshments, getting a finish time, cruising along on a well-marked course. Sure, they don’t get a coveted prize or T-shirt, but they still take advantage of the other benefits that the registered runners paid an entry fee to enjoy.

Bandits are an unwelcome addition to races, but they are especially harmful to the limited-entry events. Races impose an entry limit for reasons that may include permit restrictions, safety issues, volunteer support, or course constraints. When bandits participate in a race with an entry limit, the race may be put in jeopardy of losing a permit, or worse, liability issues may arise stressing any race director and his or her staff.

Some bandits go to extreme lengths to participate in an event without being noticed. They may procure runner numbers from another entrant who can’t run the race, they make up counterfeit numbers, and they may use an old race number.

Bandits give many reasons for not entering a race. These may include the following: the entry fees was too high; I was just on a training run; I was just running with a friend for fun; I got to the race late and couldn’t enter; I was injured and didn’t know if I’d be ready to race. Certainly valid excuses in the mind of a bandit runner, not so in the mind of the race director.

What can be done about bandits in races? Usually, not much. Some race applications do make statements to discourage bandits from coming to a race. Some pre-race announcements strongly urge bandits to go for a training run on another route. Maybe the best suggestion is for bandits to run the race course the day before the event, bring their own water and refreshments, and time themselves.

PRO TIP: There are bandits in well known road races as well. Read “Cheating to Make the Boston Marathon? You Can’t Run From This Detective” from the New York Times.